Due to the scheduled attendance of far-right Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, the European Union representation in Israel postponed its Europe Day diplomatic event on May 8 and stated that it “does not want to offer a platform to someone whose views contradict the values EU stands for.”
This year’s celebrations of Europe Day around the continent are overshadowed by the crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Russia has postponed events around the country out of concern for Ukrainian shelling. On the other side, Ukraine has chosen to commemorate Europe Day on May 8 (like Western Europe) rather than May 9 (like Russia), in an effort to move past its Soviet past.
One of the most significant days in the history of Europe is Victory in Europe Day (also known as V-E Day or simply Europe Day). The formal acceptance of the German military’s surrender on May 8, 1945 (May 9 in Eastern Europe), put an end to a war that had claimed millions of lives on the battlefield, in bombed-out cities, and in horrifying concentration camps.
As a result of Germany’s invasion of Poland, which brought Britain into the conflict, World War II started in earnest in 1939. The Luftwaffe’s defeat in the Battle of Britain, Hitler’s disastrous invasion of Soviet Russia, and the US’s entry into the war in 1941 would quickly change the course of the war, despite the initial success Germany experienced in capturing much of Western Europe and making progress in the East.
Germany was doomed to defeat by 1945. With its massive manpower and resource base, the Red Army advanced on Berlin from the East. Following the successful D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, British, American, and other allied troops hurriedly advanced towards the German capital. Italy, Germany’s largest ally in Europe, had fallen, and the Japanese were prepared for a protracted war against
Thus, German Fuhrer and head of the Nazi Party Adolf Hitler committed himself on April 30, 1945, as the Battle of Berlin continued, with the Soviet Union and the Western Allies vying with one another to conquer the city.
Following Hitler’s death, Karl Donitz began talks for a total surrender. At 22:43 local time on May 8, 1945, in Karlshorst, Berlin, the German Instrument of Surrender was signed. “The German High Command will immediately issue orders to all German military, naval, and air authorities and to all forces under German control to cease active operations at 23.01 hours Central European time on 8 May 1945,” the document stated.
Joyous celebrations were ignited by Germany’s defeat throughout the West, especially in Britain and North America. A generation-defining War that had drastically altered society and politics finally seemed to be ended (although Japan would not submit for several more months). People congregated in both Trafalgar Square and Times Square, applauding and jubilant.
However, there were fewer celebrations across the continent of Europe. Even in victory, it was difficult to be merry after having to endure the worst of the German occupation and Nazi atrocities.
But now, nearly all of Europe commemorates Veterans Day in remembrance of a conflict that claimed the lives of at least 40–50 million people on the continent (including the Soviet death toll). Europe Day is a national holiday in certain nations. People raise their country flags or white “peace” flags to commemorate the day around Europe.
VE Day is observed in Russia and other former Soviet nations with military parades and a showcasing of the country’s military might. It is observed in Germany as a solemn occasion, a reminder of the short-lived course the nation pursued, and a celebration of the valour and sacrifice of Germans who rebelled against the Nazi tyranny.